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Royal Anthropological Institute
Third conference on the History of Anthropology and the RAI
1918-1945: the rise of university departments

13-14 December 2016

The conference will take place at the RAI’s rooms, 50 Fitzroy Street, London. There is no conference fee, and refreshments will be provided. To book your place please go to http://thirdhistoryday.eventbrite.co.uk

Day One: Tuesday 13 December

10.00am-10.15am – tea and coffee

10.15-10.30am – Welcome, David Shankland, RAI Director


Sarah Walpole (RAI Archivist)
Nuts and Bolts

This paper, as in the previous two conferences, looks at the parameters of the RAI during the period in question, with particular stress on its buildings, presidents, staff and other significant events that we might wish to take into account.


Freddie Foks (Cambridge)
Nations, internationalism, and economic development: the rise and fall of anthropological economics, 1918-1945

Writing in the JRAI in 1925, Raymond Firth set out a novel argument in ‘Economic Psychology of the Maori’. Drawing on the research of Bronislaw Malinowski, he posited that while “primitives’ ” thought with the same “logical method” as “we do” they begin their economic reasoning from different premises. This had sweeping implications for economic and social policies in Britain’s colonies.

Examining Firth and Malinowski’s arguments from the 1920s and 30s this paper reveals anthropology’s place amidst wide-ranging economic arguments about colonial rule in Britain’s empire. Close attention will be paid to the global network of scholars associated with the Royal Anthropological Institute and their interaction with the “forcefield” (Pedersen, 2015: 5) of the League of Nations.

Anthropologists tried to convince colonial administrators that the way to ensure the welfare of ‘primitive’ societies was to rule them indirectly and where possible to leave them alone. They sought to promote the view that each society was its own civilization and that industrial capitalism was a culture that did lasting damage to the social integrity of non-capitalist peoples. Anthropologists’ cultural relativism cut against the idea that free trade would lead to economic uplift. They used their influence in international institutions and deployed the language of trusteeship associated with the League of Nations to make their case.

Reconstructing the international and institutional roots of the anthropological intuition that economic interactions are always cultural and social, and should be described as such, will enrich our understanding of the history of ideas of global economic development as well as contributing a novel framing to the history of inter-war British anthropology. By the 1950s these differences had crystallised into the two forms of economic argument that Karl Polanyi was calling ‘formalism’ and ‘substantivism’. By looking back at the inter-war era we can see how these opposing models of economics were formed and the ways in which anthropologists’ arguments about the economy had underappreciated influences well into the post-war era.


Paul Basu (SOAS)
Beating against the current? The RAI, academic anthropology, museum anthropology and colonial anthropology

Peter Pels and Oscar Salemink have cautioned against reducing the history of anthropology to the singular narrative of the professionalization of university-based academic anthropology, arguing that we need also to consider the parallel histories of ‘extra-academic’ anthropologies, including museum anthropology and colonial anthropology. In the early years of the twentieth century, the RAI had been regarded as the authoritative body representing anthropology in the UK. It successfully lobbied for the establishment of anthropology beyond its historical home in the museum as both an academic discipline and an applied field science of practical value to colonial administration. Through the 1920s and 30s, as the new paradigm in British social anthropology gained in strength and stature, the RAI – presided over by museum men (Read, Joyce, Harrison, Braunholtz), archaeologists (Peake, Myres), colonial administrators and missionaries (im Thurn, Smith) and veterans of the Torres Strait Expedition (Rivers, Seligman) – remained wedded to an older, more inclusive vision of the discipline. In the meanwhile, the locus of disciplinary authority shifted to the new university anthropology departments, to colonial research institutes, and new organisations such as the International African Institute and, later, the Association of Social Anthropologists. In this contribution, I compare this period of divergence with what might be regarded as the heyday of the RAI’s influence on the eve of the First World War, when it lobbied hard for the institutionalization of the discipline, and consider whether the RAI fell victim to its own success.


Chris Morton (Oxford)
More Photographs but Less Visual? Anthropological Fieldwork and the Camera Between the Wars

It has sometimes been suggested that the shift towards a more social anthropology in the 1920s and 30s led to a diminution of the previous importance placed on photography, since it was increasingly considered a tool of the ‘old anthropology’, of capturing surface appearances, whereas anthropology now sought to investigate social institutions and processes beneath the cultural veneer. Yet we find in this period also an explosion of photographic material generated by fieldworking anthropologists, and this can’t just be explained as being the result of technological developments that made photography cheaper and easier to undertake in remote locations. We need a framework to understand this paradox, of the greater use of the camera in fieldwork and yet the demotion of visual data in both anthropological analysis and the monograph. This paper will explore the fieldwork and photography of a number of key British anthropologists of the period to argue for a new understanding of the role of photography in their fieldwork, and to argue that anthropology was always more visual in this period than is widely thought.

1.10pm-2.00pm – LUNCH


Michael Young (in absentia)
Malinowski’s ambivalent relationship with the RAI

Late in April 1939, while Bronislaw Malinowski was on Sabbatical in Tucson, Arizona, he received a cable from H.J. Braunholtz on behalf of the R.A.I. Council, inviting him to accept a nomination for the Presidency. Malinowski regretfully declined the honour. As he explained in his reply, he was ‘very pessimistic about the possibilities of a new European war,’ and therefore felt that ‘it would be better if the President were British born and not a recently naturalized foreigner’. A second reason for his refusal – the probability of a heavy teaching load when his Sabbatical was over and the ‘enormous amount of half-finished work’ he would be taking back to London – was unlikely to have weighed with Council as a plausible excuse. Given his ambivalence about the R.A.I. during the previous fifteen years, however, it is unlikely that he was unduly disappointed at passing up this opportunity to crown his illustrious anthropological career in the conventional manner; at any rate, with the exception of Audrey Richards he did not see any need to mention it to any of his correspondents at the time – not even when his arch-rival Radcliffe-Brown was elected President in his place.


Harry Beran
C.G. Seligman’s research on the art of the Massim region, Papua New Guinea.

There have been a number of exhibition catalogues on Massim art (Newton 1975, Beran 1980, and Shack 1985) and one wide-ranging sales catalogue (Marcelin 2016), but no book that presents the whole of Massim art with a comprehensive text. Malinowski planned to write a book on Kiriwina, which would have included a chapter on art (Young 1998: 25). Charles Seligman was working on a book on Massim art towards the end of his life but died before it could be completed. He collected a great deal of information for this book and drafted the first two chapters. This material is preserved in the Seligman Archive at the RAI. I will select from the archive information about Massim art which is of special interest and significant unpublished or little-known photographs of Massim art. Perhaps I should add that I have written a comprehensive book on Massim art which has not yet been published.


– Beran, Harry. 1980. Art of the Massim Region of Papua New Guinea. Wollongong: Wollongong city Gallery.
– Newton, Douglas. 1975. Massim: Art of the Massim Area, Papua New Guinea. New York: The Museum of Primitive Art.
– Marcelin, Franck. 2016. Art Massim. Aix en Provence: Galerie Franck Marcelin.
– Shack, William A. 1985. The Kula: A Bronislaw Malinowski Centennial Exhibition. Berkeley: Robert H. Lowie Museum of Anthopopolgy.
– Young, Michael W. 1998. Malinowski’s Kiriwina: Fieldwork Photography 1915-1918. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.


David Anderson (Aberdeen)
Dmitry Arzyutov (Aberdeen)
The “Islands” of the Theory of Etnos: Sergei M. Shirokogoroff and the Transnational History of Anthropology

This paper deals with a transnational life history of the theory of etnos developed by a group of Russian anthropologists. One of the prominent figures in this story was Sergei M. Shirokogoroff (1887 – 1939) who studied anthropology in Paris, conducted his field research in Siberia and China and spent most of his life in China as a professor of anthropology in a number of Universities. His writings still play a key role amongst both Russian academics and political activists. The main contradiction in the intellectual biography of the theory lies in that in the early years of Soviet ethnography this theory was violently attacked as bourgeois and metaphysical but during the Cold War it was turned into the main theory of Soviet ethnography being also part of nationality policy. Ironically by that time the theory had already existed in different variants and in many anthropologies across Eurasia. Given that we will focus on the early stage of the development of this theory in its highly international context, namely how one of the protagonists of our story, Sergei Shirokogoroff developed this theory through the correspondence with overseas anthropologists. Thus Arthur Keith published his book “Ethnos” as a result of their correspondence with Shirokogoroff. The student of Shirokogoroff in China Fei Xiaotong being later a student of Bronisław Malinowski remembered that he had been under the influence of Shirokogoroff and etnos concept was important for theorization the Chinese concept minzu (nation). Apart from Chinese and British links Shirokogoroff turned out an important person in German and South African anthropologies due to his contacts with local anthropologists kept etnos as a main concept in Völkerkunde. For their part, they encouraged a generation of South African anthropologists who conducted etnos theory to the etnieё in Afrikaans and mentioned Shirokogoroff as a progenitor of this concept. In our paper we will analyze materials collected in more than 20 archives in different Europe, America, and Asia, including the documents from the RAI.

4.00pm-4.30pm – TEA BREAK       


Austin Hagwood (Cambridge)
From the Somme to Sikkim: John Morris, Everest, and the Soldier as Anthropologist

Just as British anthropology began as a colonial enterprise designed to control subjects of the Crown, so too did the 1922 Everest Expedition begin as an imperial quest for global prestige. In the wake of the Great War, a generation shaped by death and bred on battlefields turned its eyes to a challenge unthinkable a decade before: to summit the world’s highest mountain. Yet the 1922 expedition remains remarkable not only for the audacity of its dream but also for its inclusion of anthropologist John Morris. An officer in the 3rd R.A.O. Gurkha Rifles selected for his knowledge of India and gift for languages, Morris carried a passion for Tibet and Nepal and utilized the journey to Everest as an opportunity to identify research sites, survey the Arun River, and study the Gurkha people. While anthropologists such as Malinowski and Boas argued that specialist training was necessary for ethnographic research, Morris the mountaineer was uniquely positioned to expand the discipline’s geographic scope. When Morris presented his paper “The Country and Peoples of Nepal” at the RAI on 4 December 1934, outsiders were still barred from Nepal, and his work brought groundbreaking attention to Himalayan spiritual and political culture. In my paper, I argue that Morris’ ethnographic accounts – published as three books – reflect the unexplored relationship between early mountaineering and the development of British anthropology. The Everest Expedition did not exist in a vacuum; rather, it linked a postwar desire for renewal with a military career turned to anthropology. As the expedition also altered the sociopolitical conditions within Tibet and Nepal, John Morris’s contribution to the RAI echoes in the changed landscapes near Everest today.


Patrícia Ferraz de Matos (ICS-ULisboa)
The Portuguese Society of Anthropology and Ethnology (SPAE) and the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI): intersections and parallel paths (1918-1945)

I aim to analyse the relationships between the Portuguese Society of Anthropology and Ethnology (SPAE) and the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) from 1918 to 1945. These institutions, with diverse histories and paths, have contributed to reinforcing the status of anthropology as a discipline and promoted studies in their countries of constitution (Portugal and England) and at their then colonial territories. SPAE’s stronger positioning counted on fundamental internationalization efforts, namely with RAI, through correspondence and edition exchange. SPAE invited RAI members as partners and collaborators. Later on, some SPAE members and/or people linked to the University of Porto were admitted to the RAI. It is also noteworthy the mutual cooperation in the organization of events, such as international congresses. I shall review the topics published by the RAI that caught the attention of the Portuguese. On the other hand, I shall search for Portuguese authors referenced by RAI (or among its documents) and the topics associated with Portugal that come up in initiatives promoted by the RAI and in its editions. The estates of both these organisations (still active today) can offer us much information towards the study of the institutionalization of anthropology in these countries and at a global level.

5.50pm-6.20pm – GENERAL DISCUSSION


Launch of the new work by Marc Flandreau (Geneva), entitled Anthropologists in the Stock Exchange: A Financial History of Victorian Science (University of Chicago Press).

DAY TWO: Wednesday 14 December 2016

10.00am-10.30am – TEA and COFFEE


David Shankland (RAI)
Myres, the RAI and the creation of the IUAES

The Classicist John Linton Myres was an important figure in the creation of anthropology at Oxford, and also at the RAI, being the founding editor of Man, Honorary Secretary, and finally President. A tireless organizer and administrator, he took over the project to create a world anthropological congress from Marett, and overcame a series of complications which resulted from the fractured state of anthropology in the post-Great War period. In the end, he prevailed, and the first congress was held through the auspices of the RAI at UCL in 1934. Forcibly curtailed by the Second World War, the Congress eventually became the IUAES in 1954. Drawing on archive sources, this paper highlights the main events and the controversies of this little known episode of the RAI’s history.


Maxime Brami (Vienna)
Who were the Greeks?

Myres was many things: an archaeologist, classicist, geographer and anthropologist. He was the patron of Gordon Childe at the RAI, and was active in the debates surrounding Elliot Smith and diffusionism. In his now neglected work Who were the Greeks? he draws together his remarkable erudition to attempt what today might be regarded as an anti-essentialist account of the foundation of early classical Greece and the migratory flows which gave rise to it. In this paper, I outline his achievements, and reflect upon the relevance of his work to our researches in this area today.


Iris Clever (UCLA)
The Anthropological Politics of Scientific Universalism. Standardization in Anthropometry and Miriam Tildesley’s International Standardization Committee (1928-1945)

At the dawn of the 20th century, physical anthropology as a discipline was divided into distinctive schools of anthropological thought and method and there was hardly any national or international agreement on the methods of measuring bodies, skulls, and racial traits. Anthropology and the measurement of race, however, was also an international enterprise: the scientific study of global human variety required the aggregation of large amounts of data and thus international cooperation and comparison. Standardization of method, therefore, was a pressing concern within the discipline, a topic which has not been adequately addressed by historians thus far.  This paper seeks to answer the question how and why anthropologists attempted to make the measurement of human variation universal by examining the history of the International Standardization Committee of Anthropometric Technique and the complexity of nationalism and internationalism in science. By focusing on the activities of its instigator British anthropologists Miriam L. Tildesley, this paper aims to show the complex interaction between scientific universalism, anthropological politics, and international relations in the interwar period. Specifically, it will discuss some of the opposition Tildesley faced in setting up her committee from British, Italian, and American colleagues.


Dan Hicks (Oxford)
The Great War and the Survival of Ethnological Knowledge: a perspective from the Pitt Rivers Museum

This paper explores how the First World War reshaped the discipline of Anthropology. It takes as a point of departure Malinowski’s 1926 rewriting of Tylor’s entries for “Anthropology” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In the light of Malinowski’s redefinition of anthropology, the paper uses examples from the Pitt Rivers Museum to explore the changing practices of ethnological collecting undertaken by key figures in inter-war anthropology, the changing status of those practices as forms of knowledge production: Malinowski, the Seligmans, Freire-Marreco, Evans-Pritchard, Blackwood, Hutton, Gluckman – and even Radcliffe-Brown. Through the discussion of particular objects that were (sometimes surprisingly) collected by these figures, the paper will consider the connections between material culture and anthropological knowledge during this period, and the differential survival and loss of Victorian ethnological practices.

1.10pm -2.00pm – LUNCH

2.00pm -2.40pm

David Mills (Oxford)
Territorial appeasement and warring anthropologists: Colonial geopolitics, applied anthropology and the RAI 1937-1941 

The late 1930s were dominated by international concern over German territorial aggression. Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to use the colonial mandates as bargaining chips left anthropologists wondering how best to respond. In her role as RAI Vice-President, Gertrude Thompson argued that the Institute should take a stronger position against appeasement and the return of mandated territories. Not everyone agreed. The decision in 1937 to reinstate the RAI Applied Anthropology committee crystallised divisions between fellows over the perceived politicisation of the Institute’s remit. The appointment of A.R. Radcliffe-Brown as President in 1939 led to further infighting. Ethel Lindgren and William Fagg led an alliance of fellows opposed to Radcliffe-Brown’s narrow vision for the discipline and his ‘defeatist’ plans for the institute during the war. The following year, rival factions on a Colonial Affairs subcommittee continued to jockey over how best to position the RAI to benefit from ambitious British colonial plans for social science research. In this paper I analyse the complex of public engagement, scholarly principle and personal rivalry that characterised the Institute during this period. I end by reflecting on the consequences of these divisions for the post-war future of the association and the discipline of anthropology as a whole.


Jocelyn Dudding (Cambridge)
Ethel Lindgren: Salvage to Surviving Ethnography Fieldwork

Ethel Lindgren’s fieldwork with Reindeer Evenki of Inner Mongolia between 1928 and 1932 was conducted during a transition period from the classical practice of exploration and ethnographical collecting, to the new modes of immersive field research.  It was also a time of turbulent social and political unrest in Asia that greatly affected Lindgren’s research practices and thinking.  This paper will investigate how these factors influenced her future positions in lecturing at Cambridge and as the Managing Editor for Man.  


Sophie Scott-Brown (WCN/ANU)
Woman in the Grassfields: Phyllis Kaberry (1910-1977) A Biography in Development

Phyllis Kaberry’s ground-breaking studies of indigenous women made a substantial contribution to 20th century anthropology, yet she remains a relatively neglected figure. Australian-raised Kaberry first made her name as an Oceanic scholar, later transferring her research interests to West Africa. Credited as a pioneer of women’s studies in anthropology, she was held in high esteem by her contemporaries, enjoying a career spanning three continents, resulting in a number of important publications and professional appointments. Despite this, there has been little in-depth engagement with her life and work. The full significance and originality of her research is yet to be acknowledged.  This paper outlines a biography in development. As the project is at such an early stage, this paper is primarily explorative. I will briefly discuss the use of biography in intellectual history before outlining some of the key themes the study will engage with. I argue that Kaberry offers a unique lens into the intellectual and social history of 20th century anthropology. I further contend that by integrating the personal and professional dimensions of her life and work, she emerges as a founding figure for both a feminist and, through this, an ecological anthropology with enduring relevance for contemporary debates.

4.00-4.30pm – TEA/COFFEE


Jeremy MacClancy (Oxford Brookes)
The charge of the light brigade? The quixotic profundity of Lord Raglan

Unjustly neglected or mercifully forgotten, Lord Raglan was an energetic contributor to British anthropology, broadly understood, from the ’30s to the ‘60s. A prominent figure in the RAI during this period, he provoked and participated in a series of memorable anthropological debates, usually adopting an adversarial and increasingly unfashionable stance. In a riposte to Whiggish historians, I here analyse his contribution to the RAI and assess his place in the anthropology of his time.

5.10pm-5.30pm – CLOSING DISCUSSION David Shankland